The Design Era is Coming

Chris Hendrixson
May 8, 2017 · 5 min read

There’s a major trend happening in tech companies today: design teams are growing like mad. Whether you are in design, engineering or business development this trend will affect you. At the very least, get used to seeing a lot more designers around the office.

According to LinkedIn, design teams at the biggest tech companies — Facebook, Google and Amazon — grew by an astronomical in 2016.

Designers are also entering tech companies by way of acquisitions, a trend that began when tech companies started in the mid 2000s. A total of 13 design agencies were acquired between 2004–2012 by companies like Facebook, Google, Square and Adobe. Since 2012, that number has skyrocketed. In just the last five years, 59 design agencies were acquired by tech companies. There were 21 acquisitions in 2016 alone. IBM bought three.

Who Cares About Design?

NEA’s , which gathered information from hundreds of tech companies around the world, found that 87% of startups believe design is important to their business.

There is one group, however, that values design significantly more than the rest: unicorns.

A is a company valued at over $1 billion. According to , as of April 2017, there are 224 unicorns in the world. The largest startups include Uber, Airbnb, Xiaomi, Palantir, Dropbox and Pinterest. The most recent unicorn to go public was Snap, Inc. in March 2017.

When it comes to companies who aren’t valued over $1 billion (non-unicorns) the sentiment around design is different. A lot fewer believe in the importance. Nearly all unicorns (88%) believe it is important to have a dedicated design team but among non-unicorns just 56% agree.

When it comes to investors, can design lead to a higher valuation? Non-unicorns can’t quite decide; they’re split 50/50 on the matter. Unicorns, however, are more certain; 75% say “yes.”

Are unicorns more mature than other startups when it comes to design or more enlightened? They go hand in hand don’t they? Of course, younger companies can make design more of a priority.

But it’s complicated.

Great Design vs. The Startup Mentality

The fact that less mature startups don’t value design as much as more mature companies may be less an issue of naiveté than one of resources.

Startups generally lack two major things: money and time. Minimum viable products (MVPs) are rudimentary and unrefined because they are done quickly and cheaply. Taking the time and resources required for deep refinement — which is a prerequisite for greatness; there is no shortcut — is usually not smart and often not even feasible.

More mature companies have more money and can make products quickly albeit expensive. The most mature startups have a fuller realization of design’s impact on their businesses; they finally have the luxury of making design a priority.

Still, even the least mature startups today should start to think about design (and designers) in a new way. After all, we are on the verge of the Design Era.

Designers: Technology’s New Heroes

For the past several decades, engineers were the heroes of technology and anyone working in tech stands on their shoulders. Engineers built the first personal computers in the ’70s, gave us the world wide web in the ’90s and brought connected supercomputers into our purses and pockets ten years ago.

Amazing, culture-shifting technology is now ubiquitous and, thus, consumers have nearly endless options. When consumers have endless options they will crave, seek out and find the best of those options.

There’s a growing, nearly insatiable, appetite among consumers for better-designed experiences and interfaces and therefore a growing appetite for design talent inside of tech companies.

The last 30 years encompass the Era of Engineering, which laid the foundation for the coming Design Era. It will be amazing for designers, companies and consumers alike.

So, what’s next?

What can you do to prepare your organization for the Design Era?

If you’re not a designer, get to know the designers in your company. Learn about the creative process. Many non-designers still believe that design is a mystical gift some people are born with and some aren’t. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Design is a skill — a way of thinking — that can be learned and honed just like any other skill. Hang out with designers and learn how they work. Great designers are curious and will return the favor.

If you’re a CEO, champion design in your company. Remember that your business development teams are focused on keeping costs low and profits high, engineers are focused on building things most efficiently and designers are motivated by making the customer experience elegant, intuitive and beautiful. Designers have a unique skillset — described most succintly as empathy for users — and are significantly outnumbered in tech companies (engineers designers 10:1, product managers outnumber designers 4:1). Make sure you support your design team financially and mentally. You need them if you want to build a billion dollar business.

If you are a designer, keep doing what you’re doing and keep learning. Get to know the engineers. Hang out with the sales guys. Learn as much as you can about product management and business. As design teams continue to grow more and more designers are becoming leaders inside tech companies. It’s quite possible you’ll be needed in the boardroom soon.


Originally published at .

The Astronomer Journey

The team behind Astronomer, a modern data engineering platform.

Chris Hendrixson

Written by

Designer and Entrepreneur from Cincinnati

The Astronomer Journey

The team behind Astronomer, a modern data engineering platform.